Have you ever had a situation where you do/say/create something with a certain intent (or no intent), then somebody else comes along and puts their own spin on it and completely changes your original idea into something you never intended or never actually even imagined somebody would think of when you originated that thought or idea? Such is the case with VERBOTEN – the sock monkey that dare not show her face.
During a production of Lucia di Lamermoor at Seattle Opera last season, it was our good fortune to have among the supernumaries Miss Rosetta Greek. Rosetta is one of the coolest, most creative people I know – she is the kick-ass proprietress of Heavens To Betsie, and a very talented actress. She also inspired me to start my own sock monkeys after she created the beautiful Mermonkey, Atlantis, a few years ago. So it wasn’t difficult to decide I wanted to make a sock monkey for Rosetta based on her character, The Love-Cursed Bride, in the opera.
I wanted to do something different for this monkey – a different look and I wanted it to be special for Rosetta. I found a pair of gray, vintage socks I thought would be perfect for a ghost, I had some lovely silk for the wedding gown and matching gloves (trimmed with real vintage mother-of-pearl buttons from Aunt Fofo’s button box), I made her a real boned corset, some lace-trimmed bloomers and I hand beaded the veil similar to what was on her original costume. She is beautiful! But that’s not quite the end of the story.
As you’ve seen from my other posts, I had a show at McCaw Hall during the opera’s production of Porgy and Bess over the summer. I submitted photos of my work and I got the green light that I was chosen to exhibit. Then the problems began. When you assemble a sock monkey, the heel becomes the head, face and mouth of it. My ghostly gray sock had a black heel, so the monkey had a black head, face and mouth. I received an email a couple weeks before the show that the Ghost Bride would not be allowed in the show because it would “potentially offend patrons.” Huh? This was followed by another email a few days later telling me I could not refer to my work as “sock monkeys” because the term “monkey” was used to negatively refer to African Americans. Wow. And this is 2011?
I found it rather difficult to believe that anyone was going to look at my work and read it as offensive (so not what this project/endeavor has ever been about), but I offered to call them “sock puppets” (even thought they’re not) and be done with it. I did find it interesting that the Seattle Opera’s blog showed photos of the Ghost Bride and referred to my work as sock monkeys, but then I wasn’t in charge of that, was I?
Anyway, the show got a lot of positive feedback, Rosetta was thrilled with her monkey, my friend Rozarii did an amazing photo of her, and I think she’s still my favorite. After all the “trouble” she caused, Rosetta decided to name her Verboten, which I think is absolutely perfect. And just in case you’re wondering, they were called sock monkeys when they were invented 70+ years ago and they have tails like real monkeys do. What do you think?
Ideas for making stuff, writing or cooking often sit and percolate in my head for a long time. Making sock monkeys for the artists I work with at Seattle Opera is just one of those cases. Several sock monkey “contacts” happened about the same time to get the idea buzzing in my brain, and the first of those was my introduction to the amazing Mermonkey – here’s her story.
The onstage actors in an opera that do not sing are called supernumaries, or “supers” for short. The most super of our “supers” at the opera is Miss Rosetta Greek. Rosetta is one of those people that everyone likes immediately – she’s beautiful, smart, is a phenomenal actress, an artist and has a great sense of humor and tells it like it is – always one of my favorite qualities in a person. She has turned her exceptional sewing talents into a thriving business – Heavens2Betsie – creating super hip cosmetic and toiletry bags, potholders, aprons and other useable art from vintage, retro and whimsical fabrics that she sells at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, cool kitchen and gift shops around the country and online. A few years ago during one of the shows, she was inspired to create her own mermaid sock monkey from a couple of funky ’80s sweaters she’d found at a thrift store. Over the technical rehearsal week and opening of the show, she would bring “Mermonkey” in to the dressing suite I worked in to update me on her progress, and I was totally hooked by the project. She eventually sold the beautiful Mermonkey, who Rosetta named “Atlantis”, to one of the principal makeup artists.
Atlantis left behind this seed of sock monkey-ness that would not leave my head. I remembered my grandmother giving me a sock monkey she’d made me for Christmas when I was a kid, and I knew I was going to make one. About the same time, I was working as a home and gifts buyer at a local nursery in addition to my opera job. I was ordering calendars for the store and found a sock monkey calendar with pictures of vintage monkeys dressed in costumes, so I ordered one for myself. Shortly thereafter, I found an old pair of red heel socks at a thrift store and knew this was my sign to start making sock monkeys! A search on the internet for a pattern and, ta-da! I was on my way!
So my thanks to Rosetta and Atlantis for their inspiration of what’s become a fun thing to be working on in my life. I’ve since made Rosetta her own monkey based on the ghost bride character she portrayed in the awesome opera Lucia di Lamermoor. Rosetta named her “Verboten” for reasons that will become obvious when you read her story – she’s one of my favorites and I’ll share her pictures soon.
Where will my next inspiration come from? Well, this one has been on the back burner of my brain for about 20 years – seriously – so keep checking back because I’ve got all the pieces now and am putting her together –